I have been exploring the idea of how leaving thinking mind allows us to open to the richness of the experience of life. The ‘not knowing’ attitude that embraces uncertainty and possibility. It is a topic dear to my heart as I have been living mostly in my head for very long time.
First, I would like you to bring to your mind, the last time you have felt alive. When you had this feeling of being a bit like a child. Curious, fascinated. You may have been dancing, doing creative work, being with someone you love, in nature…
Each of you has probably thought about the different experience, yet there is one common denominator for all of them — we experience those moments when we are outside our thinking minds and open ourselves to our senses. And I am not saying thoughts and knowing is something terrible. No, they can be beneficial. It is more about how we deal with them.
A couple of months ago, I decided, I am going to try working with different art forms each week. I wanted to try to explore the new ways of expression, so I painted, wrote, photographed, etc. One day, I saw a pack of clay in store, it was on sale, so I thought, ‘hey, why not try to make a sculpture.’ By the time, I have arrived home, I was pretty convinced that I’m never going to use it. There were many reasons for this: I have never sculpted, I have no clue how to give clay a specific form, I have never studied at the Academy of Arts. I put away 1kg of self-judgmental thoughts made of clay into the drawer. A few days later, I took it out. I was alone home so no one would witness my humiliation as a sculpture artist wanna-be. I had a bright idea, I wanted to sculpt a human head. So, I sat down on the floor in front of the table and started playing. The thoughts about my lack of artistic skills returned. I let them pass by, I didn’t entertain any of them. Instead, I focused on the clay and the sensations in my hands while I was touching it, molding it, rolling it. The changing temperature and texture. Time passed, and suddenly I was looking at the head of a man in a hat with a powerful expression of suffering. I felt a tremendous sense of wonder. I felt aliveness and openness in my body. It was a potent moment. At the same time, I couldn’t believe, it was me who created it. I was genuinely baffled how could I create it without knowing anything about sculpturing or not even ever trying it before.
When I look back at this moment, I can see what happened. I stopped trying to understand how to work with clay, I didn’t invite in any thoughts about what I could or couldn’t do. Instead, I have allowed myself to slip into the experience of playing with clay without knowing how. I left my thinking mind at the door, and all fears and doubts were absolved at this moment. And I saw the limiting power thoughts and grasping for knowledge can have on me.
In Western culture, there’s a premium on “knowing.” We reward the students who quickly respond with the correct answer. We are attracted to experts in any profession who speak confidently. We often equate our worth to what we know. But sometimes, when we go through life, we may find ourselves short out of the new ideas and ways to respond. We repeat old patterns. We are stuck. Whatever direction, we may turn, we have already been there. We have scripted it all. And the more we seem to know, the smaller the room for movement is, the fewer possibilities we notice, the less marvellous world seems to us. The script we hold is built with the help of thoughts, beliefs, past experiences. It may prove very useful in many situations. But often it holds us back. And plagues us with The “I know” syndrome. The syndrome that is hindering the impulse for curiosity, learning and opening up to the potential that is in every moment.
What we ‘know’ may disturb us in seeing things as they are. Everyday things we are surrounded by, whether it is the view from our window, our food, and even our partner or friends, are usually taken for granted, for something or someone we know very well; hence we find them not worthy of our attention.
We want to experience being alive with the openness, connectedness and the potential that come with it. The richness of the experience of the present moment is the beauty of life itself. The way to notice the richness of moments is to cultivate the quality of mindfulness: beginners mind. Beginners’ mind wants to look at everything, as if it was the first time, free from prejudice and anxieties and allowing ‘not knowing.’
To cultivate not knowing you may release the expectations about how things work or how they will work out. You may let go of the self-judgment. Don’t give the voice to the inner critic who always pretends to know it all and plays an expert role on us.
You may practice saying “I don’t know.” It can be somewhat uncomfortable to admit that we don’t know. And it will for sure annoy your inner critic. But ‘not knowing’ opens the door to the new people, new experiences, new ways of seeing the world around us. Beginners’ mind needs practice and it rarely come naturally to grown-ups. However, the more we practice it, the stronger it gets.
You can start practice the beginners mind with simple everyday life things. You may take an apple or a peach, any everyday food you have eaten plenty of times. Take a look at it. Pretend you have never seen it before and examine it with an open mind and curiosity. Explore it. Touch it. Smell it. Taste it. Use all your senses. Leave everything you know about the fruit you are holding in your hand. Observe how your food experience differ from the previous experiences.
The willingness not to know, but inhabit the experience as it is, opens us up to whatever may arise and manifests the potential that lives in every moment. The possibility, we wouldn’t notice, if we entered into the experience knowing or predicting how it will unfold.
Only when we leave the familiar comfort or discomfort of knowing, will experience of being alive begin.